It’s been a while since I posted one of these round-ups. I didn’t read too much in November or December of 2018. I read a reasonable number of books in January 2019, though, so maybe I’m getting back in the groove. Maybe. I semi-abandoned a book, and came back to it, and now I think I’m finishing it at some point this month, but the mental drama of that consumed a lot of reading energy…and I wound up over at Twitter. I am not always productive.
The Incomplete Book of Running, by Peter Sagal
I’ve enjoyed Peter Sagal’s columns in Runner’s World, and his work on NPR, so I figured I’d enjoy this book. I did, though parts sounded familiar (because I’ve read his columns). Sagal discusses, with humor, how he ran through some of the most challenging years of his life as he got unpleasantly divorced and remarried. I was personally intrigued to hear how he got faster, in his 40s, than he had been earlier. I’m not quite sure I plan to devote the time it would take to do that, but it’s cool to learn it can be done.
Suicide of the West, by Jonah Goldberg
As with Sagal, I’ve enjoyed Goldberg’s columns (mostly in National Review; yes, I’m that person taking in NPR and National Review) so I figured I’d enjoy this book. Goldberg writes about why populist movements are always so tempting, on the right and on the left, and how fragile the advances in human living standards achieved by liberal democratic capitalism really are. He started writing this book before Trump became president, and as the book goes on, you can sense how frustrated he is to find how appealing populism has proven even to people in the conservative movement that he thought wouldn’t be tempted.
Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman
I met Lightman in person at Chicago Ideas Week a few years ago when we were both speaking there (on the topic of time). I now know that Einstein’s Dreams is the novella that launched his career. In this series of vignettes, he describes Einstein’s Switzerland and how his town and neighbors might exist if time operated in various different fashions. It’s a quick read, and slightly soothing, so a good pre-bed story for grown-ups.
Act Natural, by Jennifer Traig
I read this book to review it for the Wall Street Journal (the review ran this past week). It’s a darkly humorous look at all the horrible parenting advice that’s been dished out through the ages, and a discussion of why we think any of it matters.
Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport
The author of Deep Work looks at how to responsibly incorporate technology into your life. I’ll write more about this one later this week (when it’s officially on sale).
The Inconvenient God, by Francesca Forrest
My friend Melanie owns an independent publishing company (Annorlunda Enterprises) that specializes in short fiction. This was one of her finds, which is set in its own highly developed world. A bureaucrat (from the “Ministry of Divinity”) goes to a university to decommission a shrine to a troublesome god. But the god is not ready to be decommissioned, and as he fights to keep his powers, he dredges up 200 year old secrets that everyone would like to keep buried. This is a quick hit — less than an hour — and yet you feel like you know this imagined society. I’d definitely recommend this one as a genre-bending, quirky read.
OK, So Look, by Micah B. Edwards
Another Annorlunda find. Edwards retells the book of Genesis in all its ridiculousness, with humor and historical context. While he’s irreverent (and not a believer himself) he knows the book in and out, and goes through every chapter, not just the highlights. As the daughter of a professor of Old Testament and Hebrew scriptures, I approve of this approach. If you’re going to get Noah, you may as well get Tamar! And the begats. Because he’s so thorough in his analysis, I could actually see this being read alongside Genesis in a Bible study…though it would have to be a very special Bible study.
Out of the Maze, by Spencer Johnson
Millions of people have read Who Moved My Cheese?, Spencer Johnson’s original fable of characters struggling to deal with change. In this posthumously published sequel, Johnson follows the character who just couldn’t cope with his changed circumstances in the last book. Over the course of this new fable, he learns that you are not your beliefs. You are the person who thinks your beliefs. Sometimes beliefs are good, but other times they serve to limit you. Wisdom is about knowing the difference.
Homebody, by Joanna Gaines
Santa put this in my stocking for Christmas, and I finally got around to reading it. And yes, I actually read it cover to cover, even though it’s the sort of book I imagine most people just page through for renovation inspiration. Gaines discusses how to think about various rooms in a house. I particularly enjoyed her thoughts on kid spaces — namely, that it’s good to have kid spaces. At one point she was so obsessed with having a perfect house that she’d follow behind her kids cleaning up even while they were still playing. Eventually (probably somewhere around running a big business and having five kids) she got over this. I also like her assertion that many homeowners would be better served by putting more effort into their laundry rooms than, say, their formal dining rooms. Guess where people spend more time? In any case, there are a lot of lovely lovely pictures in here for any Magnolia fans.